18 Yacht Charter Rules You Should Know

18 Yacht Charter Rules You Should Know

Whether it’s your first time chartering a yacht, you’re a yacht aficionado, or a guest aboard someone else’s yacht – we all can agree that good yacht etiquette is appreciated by everyone, and will make for a better yacht charter experience for all.

Being on a yacht is a completely different social environment than anywhere else and carries with it its own set of rules. We put together this guide to include the DOs and DON’Ts that are expected when you step aboard a private yacht.

Even if you have chartered a yacht before, it’s worth taking a quick read to brush up on your yacht charter etiquette.

Captain and Crew

Miami Yacht Crew

1. Roles and Responsibilities

It is important to remember that the captain and crew are there for two main reasons: to make your time onboard safe and to ensure your yacht charter runs as smoothly as possible.

The captain and crew are hired by the owner of the yacht, and over time, have become intimately familiar with the vessel. The crew understands the yacht’s limits and the local waterways, and your safety is always top priority.

Besides your safety, the captain and crew want you to feel at home and to make sure you have a pleasurable experience. They will go above and beyond to ensure that you do so, but whenever safety and regulations are concerned, it’s always best to follow the crew’s advice.

The size of the yacht will typically dictate the size of the crew. Smaller day boats will sometimes have just a captain and a first mate, while larger yachts can have dozens of crew members. Generally speaking, the captain is considered the master of the vessel and all crew report to the captain. The captain’s main responsibility is setting the course, making sure all the crew do their job and that everyone onboard is safe at all times.

The rest of the crew each have assigned roles and responsibilities ranging from the first mate to the stew to the chef. Each crew member’s role and rank is determined by their experience and expertise, but all-in-all they work together to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable time.

2. Itinerary

Before even stepping aboard for your charter, you will work with your broker and captain to decide on an itinerary. For a single day charter your broker will generally have a few different options depending on the type of charter you are looking for: be it a quiet family charter, to a fun celebration at a beach club with your friends.

For a term (multi-day) charter, you will work with your broker and captain to decide on a specific itinerary well before your charter so that the captain and crew can make all the necessary arrangements from reservations at marinas and restaurants to securing books for other activities – such as scuba diving to onshore excursions. The earlier you plan, the better your chances at securing reservations to all your top choices.

3. Safety Briefings

As soon as you and your guests steps aboard the yacht, the captain will introduce his crew and deliver a safety briefing regarding lifejackets, liferafts, yacht layout, and any other specific safety information for the yacht and the surrounding area.

This briefing is both maritime law and an insurance requirement, but above all else, it serves to ensure that everyone is safe while aboard the yacht. Once this is over, you may begin your cruise.

4. The Preferences Sheet (Term Charters Only)

Your broker and the captain will always be there to provide itinerary and activity recommendations, afterall, they are intimately familiar with the yacht and the area you will be cruising. But, as each charter is a totally bespoke experience, you can expect your broker to heavily on rely on your input when putting together your itinerary.

Your broker to ask you to fill in a preference sheet. We recommend that you work with your broker in filling this out, as this sheet will be shared with the crew so that they can provision the boat for your charter and make all the necessary preparations for your charter. We recommend you fill this form out as accurately as possible and include any and all specific preferences regarding particular brands of food or beverages you may have.

But what exactly is a preference sheet?

A preference sheet is a form that specifies the needs for all guests who will be aboard during the charter.

These needs include:

  • Contact information,
  • Flight arrival details,
  • Charter activities (e.g., dining ashore, water toys, possible interest points, etc.),
  • Medical details,
  • Food and beverage preferences (such as brands, allergies, vegetarian cuisine, etc),
  • And any other special requests for children or excursions.

Please note that the preferences should reflect all members onboard and not only those of the person filling out the form; make sure that everyone’s needs are accounted for.

Additionally, if you are celebrating something special such as a birthday or an anniversary, do let the crew know as they will make sure to add that final touch to really make it a special charter.

5. Inviting Guests

One of the pleasures of chartering a yacht is being able to entertain in grand style. It is essential that this is planned in advance so that the captain and crew are aware that guests will be joining you aboard.

The simple reason behind planning beforehand is that this will allow the captain and crew to order extra provisions, thus ensuring that there will be no embarrassing shortage of food or drink and the chef will be very well-prepared to cater to you and your guests.

6. Housekeeping

Another aspect of the crew’s duties is ensuring the yacht is always in impeccable shape. This may include anything from making the beds and cleaning up after meals to preparing the food, performing maintenance on the water toys, or even tending to the yacht itself.

Housekeeping generally takes place in the morning. Head up to the sunbed on your yacht’s bow or aft deck and take in some morning sun, or go up to the flybridge and relax in the jacuzzi, or just take some time to catch up on your reading while your crew makes up your rooms and prepares for the day’s journey.

7. Crew Quarters

Something crucial to respect and understand is that there are some areas in the yacht that you should not enter without prior consent. These are the crew quarters and the galley.

Each yacht’s sleeping quarters are divided into staterooms (guest cabins) and crew quarters. Crew quarters are traditionally located towards the stern side (back of the yacht), whereas the guest cabins are typically located towards the bow (front of the yacht). Usually guest quarters and crew quarters are physically separated by the engine room to create privacy for both the guests and the crew. Do not invade the crew’s quarters without explicit verbal authorisation as this is their private space where they sleep and stow their personal belongings.

Also on most yachts the galley (kitchen) is considered a commercial workspace similar to a restaurant kitchen. It is courteous to ask the chef if you may enter the galley as they will usually be working throughout the day. If you are hungry or simply craving a snack, simply let someone from the crew know, and they will be happy to bring you something straight away.

8. Childcare

Another important point to keep in mind is that despite the fact that the majority of crew members love being around children, they are not your personal babysitters.

The crew might be up to helping out with water-related activities, such as waterskiing or wakeboarding, but if you are truly looking forward to relaxing while the children are entertained elsewhere, we recommend arranging for childcare to join you on your charter.

Yacht Charter Rules

Miami Lifestyle Yacht Day

Each yacht is unique with respect to its layout, its crew, its watertoys and also their owners and rules specific to the vessel. Despite these differences, there are some fundamental rules that are consistent throughout the yachting world.

Below you will find the set of rules that never change.

9. The ‘Barefoot’ Rule

While no two luxury yacht charters are identical, there’s one thing they all have in common: a basket for shoes by the gangway or passerelle.

Before you step aboard, the crew will likely have you place your shoes inside a basket that will later be placed in a safe location until you are ready to step off the yacht.

A yacht’s deck is delicate, so if shoes are allowed on deck, keep in mind that they should be soft soled “boat shoes”. Stiletto heels may dent the teak and black soles can leave ugly scuff marks. Similarly, street shoes can damage a yacht’s carpets or custom flooring.

10. Ask About the Smoking Policy

As a general rule, most yachts do not allow smoking inside the cabins. However, most yachts do designate a smoking area on an outside deck in case guests fancy an after-dinner cigar.

It is always recommended to inform your charter broker from the onset if you or someone onboard is a smoker so that your broker will inform the crew and you’ll be briefed on the designated smoking areas.

11. Do Not Bring Your Pet Aboard, Unless They Meet all the Requirements

A yacht charter that allows pets is a rarity. If the vessel you are chartering allows pets, make sure you have everything required to bring your pet aboard.

First and foremost, it is important to consider your pet’s overall well-being and safety. Keep in mind that you will be on the water for most of your charter which means that there will not be anywhere to walk your pet and that pets are prone to get seasick.

If travelling internationally, there will be further requirements. Note that every country will have a different set of standards as to what your pet needs to legally enter. Some countries require micro-chips, vaccinations, and even pet passports, so always be sure to check with your broker in the planning of your charter to avoid any issues.

We highly recommend leaving your pet on dry land and enjoying your cruise with your other guests.

12. Do Not Bring Hardshell Luggage

Staterooms on a yacht are beautifully designed for you, but not for storage. No matter the size of the yacht, storage is always a precious commodity.

We discourage bringing hardshell luggage aboard as it ends up taking valuable space. Alternatively, opt for a soft luggage that can be easily folded up and stowed away during your cruise.

13. Do Not Bring Red Wine on a Yacht

For some this might not be obvious, but bringing red wine onto a yacht is usually discouraged since red wine stains easily and is later extremely hard to remove from any surface.

Furthermore, it is also very hard to store wine aboard a yacht as the warmer environment will cause the wine to mature faster and even oxidize prematurely.

Water Toys + Going Ashore

Yacht's watertoys

Exploring secluded islands and coves; using the jet skis, kayaks or paddle boards; snorkeling with aquatic life; or simply diving off a yacht’s swim platform are some of the first things we think about when yachting comes to mind.

Water toys and tenders are a huge part of the yachting experience and it is vital to understand how to properly use them so that you can have fun while being safe.

14. Inform the Crew You Are Leaving the Yacht

Crews are trained to keep an eye on their guests, but even so, if you plan on going for a swim or taking the tender ashore, it is always best to inform someone in your party be it a guest or a member of the crew.

Once you are out on the water – whether on a jet ski, tender or simply swimming – it is important that you stay within eyesight of the yacht so that the crew can see you so you always know how to get back to your yacht.

15. Ask How to Properly Use Water Toys

Some of the yacht’s water toys are self-explanatory and easy to use. However, if you’ve never used a jet ski or a seabob, have one of the crew members show you how to use the device properly before heading out onto the water.

While jet skis are some of the most popular water toys, they have to be used with caution. You should always wear your lifejacket, and you should never operate any water toys after drinking alcohol. An accident will spoil the fun and can cause serious injuries.

Also, in many areas you will need to have a proper license to use a jet ski and other motor-operated water toys, so keep this in mind when you are finalizing your itinerary with your charter broker.


Yacht crew member

16. Tipping Policy

Although not mandatory, it is customary to leave a gratuity for the captain and crew once your yacht charter ends for a job well-done.

YachtLife automatically includes a gratuity of 15% for all US day charters so you don’t have to bring any extra cash onboard. This is distributed to the captain and crew at the end of each charter.

We do not, however, include this gratuity charge for any other of our international destinations or for term charters. Instead, we recommend leaving a cash tip of 15% upon disembarkation. This should be placed in an envelope and handed directly to your captain, he will later share it with his crew.

If there is a crew member that you believe went above and beyond, be sure to let your captain know, and do feel free to tip them personally at the end of your trip.


Family enjoying day on a yacht

Laws still apply when you are aboard your yacht. It is therefore important to always be aware of the local regulations when navigating foreign and local waters.

17. Do not Bring More Than Twelve Passengers Aboard Charters

US Charters are governed by the Jones Act which deemes that unless a vessel, regardless of its size, is a US Coast Guard-Inspected Vessel, it may not carry more than twelve passengers during a paid yacht charter.

Almost all other major yachting destinations (with the exception of the Middle East) has some form of local coast guard regulation that limits the number of guests on a private yacht charter to twelve. Always double check the local laws with your charter broker before finalizing your charter.

18. Respect the Local Laws

Each country has its own set of laws regarding drug use, weapon possession and alcohol consumption. As the penalties for such activities are severe, the captain and crew have the duty to report to the authorities if any such activity takes place aboard the yacht.

So, If ever you are unsure about the local laws do go ahead and ask the captain and crew ahead of time. It is never safe to assume.


We hope the above reminders were helpful. Remember, YachtLife is here to help you find the perfect yacht for any occasion but whenever booking a yacht charter, work with your broker ahead of time to ensure everything is ready for your once you embark. Once aboard your yacht, the captain and crew will be there to make sure you are safe and have an unforgettable experience.

Have fun and enjoy yourself. You are going on an amazing vacation and this is an opportunity for you to relax and unwind. To help you out, we have put together some sample itineraries here. You deserve it.

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